This Ghost is not the Japanese psych band formed in the ’80s and popular in the mid to late ’90s. These guys, who choose not to identify themselves or appear in band photos, are from Sweden, and they play a brand of hard rock hauled, damp and stinking, straight from the bottom of the early ’70s occult rock barrel. They’re signed to the UK label Rise Above Records, home to similarly retro-minded artists like Astra, Witchcraft, Orange Goblin and Electric Wizard. They’re not as harsh or forceful as most of their labelmates, though; their brand of rock/metal features clean vocals and an instrumental palette relatively free of feedback and distortion. Their songs gallop rather than throb or thud, and the guitar solos (not to mention the omnipresent organ, and the way the backing vocalists sing the choruses) have more in common with Blue Öyster Cult than Black Sabbath.

There are other acts plowing a similar groove of late; the most prominent are The Devil’s Blood (also signed to Rise Above) and, to a lesser degree, Sabbath Assembly and Christian Mistress. Sabbath Assembly actually play pre-metal psych rock, while The Devil’s Blood are early ’70s occult rock in the spirit of Black Widow and Coven, and Christian Mistress are a slightly punky, New Wave Of British Heavy Metal-derived outfit with a loose, aggressive feel reminiscent of primitive early ’80s thrashers Znöwhite. Of course, every act I just cited is female-fronted, and I don’t think Ghost are. But there are plenty of commonalities between their work and that of the bands I just listed, particularly the lyrical content.

The Devil’s Blood have released one EP, Come, Reap, and one full-length, The Time of No Time Evermore. Both feature early ’70s hard rock, somewhere in the neighborhood of Heart at their most muscular, with lyrics revolving around Satanism and the occult in general. I didn’t like the EP very much at all, but the full-length is much better, and improves even as it’s playing; “Christ Or Cocaine,” which comes more or less at the disc’s midpoint, could totally have gotten FM radio airplay in the ’70s (and wormed its way into the classic rock pantheon), were it not for the title and lyrical content.

Like The Devil’s Blood, Ghost are single-minded; track titles on Opus Eponymous (buy it from Amazon) include “Ritual,” “Satan Prayer,” “Con Clavi Con Dio” (which translates to “With Knife With God”) and “Stand By Him”—they’re overtly Satanic, not in an ooga-booga way but in a Church of Satan, we’re-writing-hymns way. The music, too, is pretty classic-rock-radio-friendly; organ is as prominent as guitar in just about every song, adding to the ritualistic, liturgical mood. These songs could get played right alongside “Burnin’ For You” or “Don’t Fear the Reaper” and nobody would blink. The final track, “Genesis,” is an instrumental that begins as a metallic gallop and winds down to prog-rock acoustic guitar and organ. Some songs, particularly “Con Clavi Con Dio” and “Prime Mover,” are driven by prominent bass lines, but none of it ever inspires any response more visceral than forceful head-nodding.

Ultimately, I can’t say I like this album all that much. The music is adequate, but not much more. The vocals—upper-register and semi-chanted—lack the aggression and commitment that great hard rock demands. The lyrics are clearly written in a serious spirit, and avoid horror-movie clichés when talking up Satan and all his works, but they neither seduce the unwary onto the left hand path nor achieve camp comedy value (not that I come to metal for laffs, but you know, others do). And the music, while melodic enough, has a weird combination of relative crudity and smooth production (“Ritual” sounds like Early Man covering Blue Öyster Cult) that I find not off-putting, but definitely an acquired taste I can’t foresee myself gravitating toward all that often. But if you’re in a mood for totally ’70s hard rock, nudging in the direction of metal, this may be exactly what you’re looking for.

Phil Freeman

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